EU citizens from across the UK and Britons settled in Europe gathered to lobby Westminster on Wednesday in an effort to inject some renewed energy into the campaign to secure their rights post-Brexit.
Nurses, doctors, scientists, social workers, council workers and artists lined up to tell of their fears and explain why they could not trust Theresa May or David Davis’s words of reassurance that everything would be all right in the end.
Peter Klepsch, 51, anaesthetist, Bristol
Peter and his wife, Sabine Klepsch, a neuroscientist, came to the UK from Germany 12 years ago with their son, who is now 15.
Their plan before Brexit was to maintain their careers in Britain until retirement. Peter said: “That was our original plan, to use our freedom of movement rights and when we retired we could decide where to live.
“I think a lot more about going back to Germany now to work but that would be difficult as Julius is still in school and would have difficulty in the German system.
“My worst fear is that the UK will be in a timewarp going back 30 or 40 years. Brexit is not my problem. I can go back, but I feel sorry for the EU citizens who can’t.
“I know a lot of EU doctors and nurses who are saying ‘I’m not going to stay very much longer’. I work in a department that would be closed down tomorrow without all the Spanish nurses who came here two years and were promised a bright future.”
Sabine Klepsch, 50, neuroscientist, Bristol
Sabine said she had never encountered any problem as a foreign national in Bristol, but had recently detected a change of attitude among patients.
“The older patients are keen to say how they support Brexit, but it is always gentle conversation. But recently I had one middle-aged patient who was kept waiting and when she came to see me she told me that Angela Merkel was wrong to let in the refugees.
“I engaged in a gentle chat and said sorry she had to wait and she said: ‘I have forgiven you already,’ as if she was a bit superior because she was British she felt she could judge me. I thought that was incredible. But that was the only time something like this happened.”
“We have never considered getting permanent residency because we weren’t concerned about it, but our levels of concern are now raised and we are considering British citizenship because of our son, but we are still undecided.”
Carole Converse, 48, council programme manager, Brighton
French national Carole has been in the UK for 29 years but says for the first time she feels unsafe and hides her accent in public.
“I used to feel at home here. I never even thought of myself as an immigrant. I’m integrated because I’m European in Europe. Now I’m a migrant in a foreign country,” she said.
“I’ve been here since I was 18. This is my home. Even if I could go back, I can’t. I have trouble speaking French, I have never worked there. My partner is British … and we need to stay here to look after his elderly parents.
“I’ve been told to go back to frogland, yes, even in a place like Brighton which is cosmopolitan.”
Jason Filintras, nurse, 29, Watford
Greek nurse Filintras was assured by the NHS when he came to Britain after an overseas recruitment drive nine months ago that everything would be OK. Now he is not sure.
“I came after Brexit, so knew the situation. The NHS have a huge problem with staffing levels and I felt I was one of the lucky ones to get an interview for such an institution. When I asked the NHS trust in Watford about my future as an EU citizen in Britain, they told me there would be no change.
“I am worried not just for myself and my colleagues – 40% of all staff in Watford General are EU, doctors and nurses. I’m worried what will happen the patients.”
Christine Cé, 51, learning technologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London
French national Christine, says she is heartbroken that after 27 years in England she has to consider moving abroad.
“My plan was always to stay here, because when I came here I just fell in love with the country and the people.
“The idea of starting again at 50 and going back to France? I have little family there, I have no network there. Here, I am settled, I’ve got a mortgage, I have a son who is British and who has just started college her and I can’t just up and leave.
“But I don’t feel reassured at all. My employer is really good, putting on events, providing legal advice. My worst fear? That Britain will descend into a terrible state. I used to think this country was open and inclusive and tolerant but it’s becoming more inward-looking and nationalist.”
Christophe Gaspard, 41, entrepreneur, Bristol
Gaspard came to the UK in 2009 but now fears that if he leaves he may not be let back in.
“I have a business helping French citizens to set up companies here in the UK. I have lost 70% of business since the referendum. I’ve started work as a customer assistant at the Co-op because revenue from my business was going down. I have four children.
“My eldest daughter starts university this year and even she’s very worried about her status. She doesn’t even know if she’ll be able to finish her studies here. In two or three years, she will have to go abroad [for her studies] and it will create a gap in her presence in the UK.
“The situation is not clear, it’s stressful. We could be thrown out from one day to another when Brexit happens. If I left the country for a certain period of time, for a holiday, will I be able to pass the borders back in? When my partner went on holiday, I told her to carry everything possible to show she lives here – she is resident here – not just her ID card. When I was waiting for her at the airport, I was like ‘fingers crossed’ that she would be allowed back in.
Laure Ollivier-Minns, 50, sculptor, Norwich
Ollivier-Minns, a sculptor from France, is incensed that British people are not standing up for her.
“I have a British husband and British children, I have been here for 31 years, but I am just an artist, which means I am an unworthy migrant in the eyes of this government. I used to teach French but I’ve never had the five continuous years they require.
“Everybody shrugs their shoulders and says ‘you’ll be all right, your husband’s British’. We’re fed up of hearing this. I don’t have a home to go back to. It’s not as if we’re teenagers going back to mum and dad, I’ve spent my whole adult life here. To tell us we have to be treated like criminals, have fingerprints, pass an English test, it’s insulting.
“This is an abuse of human rights and our family lives. Every day I am questioning do I want to remain in a country where the majority of British citizens are not speaking out for us?
“Why are they not on the street demonstrating? If this happened in France and there was such discrimination against British citizens, I would be out on the street.
Cathy Roblin, 60, social carer, Southampton
Roblin came to the UK from France 42 years ago and feels let down by the English.
“I have lived all of my adult life in this country. The option of going back to France and finding work is no longer available, I am too old. I work with adults and I see all the care homes, without European workers they would close. I haven’t come here to take the job of a British person, I have come here to plug a shortage. I did my degree in London and I put ‘back in’ to the country.
“We came here in good faith because were were part of Europe. I have have always loved England for its diversity. … My youngest daughter was asked the day after the referendum: ‘When are you packing your bags to go?’ We’ve had nothing to reassure us. I feel very strongly that the low skilled/high skilled dialogue is very, very toxic and divisive. Up until a week ago, I wasn’t going to apply for British citizenship but now I feel I have no other option – I am going to pay the money and take the test.
Arianne Hoppler, 55, learning and development consultant, Norfolk
Happler came to the UK from Germany 13 years ago. She feels angry at the lack of appreciation for her contribution.
“At the beginning, I felt sure something would be sorted out but now I am getting angry. As a country, you have benefited from my skills, the German government paid for my university education. I have been given no guarantees and I think that’s very disrespectful. I am really worried, coming from Germany, in particular the increase in hostility against a certain group of people. I don’t want to compare with Nazi Germany but the beginning was ‘We don’t want you here.’
“People have been remarking to me at work: ‘This is the British way of doing things’ – I have heard that several times. I think Brexit enables people to come up with these comments, it creates a very hostile environment. I don’t really want to go back to Germany, but I might do if the climate gets more hostile.
Hedwig Hegtermans, 55, Kent
Hegtermans said hearing the referendum result was like when she heard she had cancer. “I came here 16 years ago, in 2001. In 2002, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I got better thanks to the NHS and since then I’ve volunteered for a breast cancer charity.
“We woke up on 24 June last year with a shock and in that moment I already felt the security rug was dragged from under my feet. It was awful, like hearing I had breast cancer. You can’t believe what you hear and think life will never be the same. I felt very alone. We just want to keep what is ours, we don’t want ‘settled status’, we just want what was promised to us.
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